A Nobler Experiment That Worked

by Francine Cohen

Photo courtesy of Gabi Porter

Walking down Hudson Street last night one tuxedo clad fellow was heard saying to another, "Wait, that was really history?  There really was a 21st Amendment?  They didn't just make up an excuse for a party?"  Uh, yes guy who apparently slept through your American history classes. 

Can't blame him too much though; that conversation just proves how unfortunate it is that so many people got stuck with that teacher who insisted that dates memorized by rote is the best way to appreciate American history. 

Truth is, the best way to learn is to embrace the philosophy of the bartenders from the Washington, DC bar The Passenger who recommend that we "party like it's 1933."

And party they did.  Kicking off with weekend celebrations leading up to the big day on December 5th and then going all through the night (thanks, Cole Porter), Repeal Day's 78th anniversary was celebrated across the country.

History teachers everywhere should take a lesson from bartenders and bar owners who brought history to life by throwing Repeal Day parties that were absolutely the bees knees.  It was a great time; the bartending industry equivalent of a New Year's Eve party and Christmas rolled into one (but, as Julie Reiner pointed out in her invitation to the bash at The Clover Club - no need to stress over family or gift purchases).

It's such a big deal that some folks found themselves traveling between DC and New York to catch the best of the best on the East Coast.  Simon Ford (officially Pernod Ricard USA's Director of Trade Outreach and Education as well as notoriously great party thrower and goer) made it to both towns to celebrate. 

Ford was spotted in DC Saturday night at the Fourth Annual Repeal Day Ball held in historic Halcyon House in Georgetown.  Organized by Gina Chersevani, Mixtress at popular restaurant PS7s and co-founder of the DC Craft Bartender's Guild, Chersevani (along with her team of Guild co-founders Derek Brown, Chantal Tseng and Owen Thomson) threw a memorable bash that drew out the city's most notable bartenders, chefs, and their favorite patrons. 

Chersevani notes, "After months of planning, organizing, choosing, and emailing I always take a few minutes to stand in crowd and feel the energy and it is always worth it."

Ford concurs as he says, "DC is the bartending town with a sophisticated edge and no other event shows that better than their The Repeal Day Ball. Where in the world is more fitting to celebrate the repeal of the 18th Amendment than the nation’s capital?"

He continues to explain what draws him to this annual party, "I have attended every single one and they seem to become grander and more lavish every year.  I have a great relationship with Gina and Owen and the rest of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild and through that we help them make this event happen through way of sponsorship with our Pernod Ricard portfolio. This year we had rooms dedicated to Beefeater, Plymouth, Absolut and Pernod Absinthe that were hosted by bartenders from all over the country making fantastic drinks for the occasion. Kudos to the Guild for bringing so many people from the industry together."

Kudos for the annual event also comes courtesy of a man who should know since he’s been to every Repeal Day Ball since they started four years ago - Garrett Peck, the author of Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't and The Prohibition Hangover and the leader of DC's famous Temperance Tour.  Peck comments, "Since the cocktail culture has really reestablished in the last decade, I think it's great to see how the bartenders have taken the lead in creating fun events around the country where they all get together.  Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Portland Cocktail Week.  And in DC, we have our own fun, signature cocktail event: the Repeal Day Ball. That was [to celebrate] the day on December 5, 1933, that Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition.”

He continues, “It was a political event, and, as politics is the nature of DC, it's totally fitting and appropriate that we celebrate Repeal Day in Washington.  I'm really excited that we've been able to make this our signature event - and how many bartenders from around the country join us to celebrate."

After the celebrating ended in the wee hours of Sunday morning, plans were underway in NYC for many who planned to attend memorable celebrations like those held at Ward III,  the Clover Club, the LUPEC and Zacapa sponsored bash at 1534 and, of course, the grandaddy of them all - Employees Only's show up in 1930s garb or don't get in the bar party that was packed to the gills. 

Fittingly, Bootlegger Vodka co-founder Brian Facquet was a fixture near the punchbowl for most of the evening.  An expert at period parties celebrating the 20s and 30s, Facquet commented on how authentic the party felt.  He looked around, listened to the band playing Fats Waller and Cole Porter tunes while a tastefully risqué burlesque performance took place on top of the bar transfixed most of the guests and noted that it seemed the bar could have been operating back in 1933.  He says, "The sign entering the building and draped across the back wall reminded me of old signs you would see in Labor movement images from the 1920's.  I don't know what it was, but the simple touch brought my mind to the period."

Ford who was across the bar was equally impressed as he concludes, "I attended three parties last night....Allen Katz opened his bar at the distillery on Repeal Day just as EO had done 6 years ago, then I hit Employees Only which is always the baddest (in a good way) Repeal Day party; everyone makes an effort and everyone is there to cause some trouble and no one knows how to facilitate that better than the EO team, and then I went to the Clover Club where some of the bartending luminaries celebrated in a more sophisticated way.  I ended my night drinking champagne with Audrey, Julie, Richie B and it was a pleasant way to end Repeal Day.

This year belonged to Employees Only, they finally got the recognition they deserved from their peers when they won Best Bar in the World and I feel that last night's party was more than just the celebration of Repeal, and the anniversary of their opening; it was a gathering of their friends and family to celebrate the coming of age of one of the best bars in the world."

Perhaps the next time that that clueless fellow enters EO's portals, he'll be reminded of the history lesson he learned there on Repeal Day and then we'll know that in some twisted way, the Noble Experiment was a success.

* Just as Prohibition impacted the entire country, the West Coast saw Repeal Day parties too; like the one that Tobin Ellis of Bar Magic in Las Vegas threw. We just couldn’t get there to cover it.

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